How Does Divorce Affect Food Stamps?
By Heather Frances J.D.
Eligibility for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – often called food stamps – is primarily based on your income and family size, which can change after divorce, but the exact method of calculation varies by state. For example, some states count the value of your vehicle while others do not. However, divorce itself does not affect your eligibility.
Households must meet certain thresholds of income and resources to qualify for SNAP, and all of the income and resources within the same household are counted together. A household is generally defined as people living together who prepare meals together. Thus, when you live with your spouse, SNAP counts both incomes, which may make it harder for you to qualify or you may receive less in benefits. After you divorce, if you live apart, your ex-spouse’s income won’t be counted, and this may increase your chance of eligibility.
If the court awards alimony or child support in your divorce decree, SNAP considers these payments to be unearned income, along with things like Social Security, pensions and unemployment benefits. Consequently, your state may add alimony and child support payments to your earned income when determining eligibility.
Child Support Deduction
Your state’s program allows deductions of certain payments you make, including some dependent care expenses and child support. If the court orders you to pay child support, this deduction will lower your monthly income for SNAP purposes and may increase your chances of eligibility.
Generally, you cannot qualify for SNAP if you have a certain level of value in resources: $2,000 for most households or $3,250 if one person in the household is 60 or older or is disabled. SNAP excludes some resources, such as the value of your home, from this total, and each state has its own way of valuing other resources like vehicles. Since divorce divides personal property, your resource level may decrease from the divorce, causing you to qualify for SNAP.
The number of people in your household determines how high your income can be before you lose SNAP eligibility. In some states, when the court orders joint custody of your children, either you or your ex-spouse can claim the children as members of your household, but not both. You and your ex-spouse must decide who gets to claim the children, or you can ask the court to address this in your divorce decree. In other states, the SNAP program will determine which parent has more care of the children and add the children to that parent’s household.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.